It’s a little after 5 am and Enora, a maize farmer in rural Nigeria has already begun her day. After making breakfast for her five young children, tending to her elderly parents, and feeding livestock, she commences work on the fields. She must remove a growing threat on her farm: invasive weeds. 

Women are responsible for more than 90% of hand weeding on African farms. A
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Women are responsible for more than 90% of hand weeding on African farms. A

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The Growing Challenge for Smallholders

Removing weeds by hand is an enormous undertaking on any farm. Even a humble single hectare plot requires hundreds of hours of labor—digging with metal hoes or bending over to pull weeds. 

The Advantage of Crop Protection for Small Farms

In more affluent countries, farmers have many alternatives to hand weeding. They can use tractors to till fields, apply herbicides, and adopt conservation practices like cover crops to help suppress weed growth. Farmers have gravitated to these methods for good reason. When growing any crop, timing is everything. Farmers need to seed at the right time, add fertilizer at the optimal moment, and remove pests quickly to produce a harvest.  

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Smallholder farmers face a dilemma when removing weeds by hand. Every day spent hand weeding can lead to delays in planting and rob farmers of potential yield. However, leaving weeds unattended during the season can also compromise crops—and can even lead to total harvest loss. Put simply, smallholders must decide how much time they can spend on hand weeding, and how many weeds they can afford to leave in their fields. 

The Empowerment of Crop Protection

Effective crop protection tools, like herbicides, can significantly improve the quality of life for all smallholder farmers, especially women in rural, developing countries. By following label directions and employing best practices for safe application of herbicides, the time previously spent removing weeds can be used to create opportunity for smallholders. They can use this newfound productivity to grow another crop, adopt conservation practices, or pursue other professional endeavors. Crop protection in agriculture can help provide more autonomy to smallholder farmers. 

Hand weeding a single hectare of maize in Nigeria takes one person 309 hours.B
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The Education of Crop Protection

At peak season, many children in rural African communities are needed to help pull weeds on their family farms. From as young as five to as old as 14, these students can miss school for as many as 120 days a year. On average, smallholder farmers using modern crop protection technologies generally send their children to school more often.C  Additionally, as smallholder farmers gain access to effective crop protection, parents can impart this new knowledge to the next generation of smallholder farmers.

Hand weeding can be needed for 60 to 120 days a year in Sub-Saharan Africa—during this time school-age kids commonly miss class to help pull weeds.A
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The Potential of Crop Protection

Agriculture has proven time and again to be an effective driver of economic progress. As farmers grow more, become more efficient, and use natural resources more effectively, the benefits can spread throughout the community. Crop protection technology plays a key role in this advancement. When developing regions like Sub-Saharan Africa gain greater access to these essential tools and training, the future of smallholders can hold even more promise and possibility. 

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Imagine the impact of half a billion farmers using better tools, enjoying an improved quality of life, and more economic opportunity. 
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Imagine the impact of half a billion farmers using better tools, enjoying an improved quality of life, and more economic opportunity. 

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Along with other leaders in modern agriculture, Monsanto is striving to take part in this pursuit of progress for smallholder farmers. We partner with local seed companies around the world to help smallholders gain access to seed varieties that better manage pests. We provide training on best agronomic practices to millions of smallholders every year and bring a global perspective to every product and technology throughout our research and development pipeline

As we’ve always sought to do, we will continue to do our part to provide farmers both large and small with the tools, technology, and innovation to make the most of every acre. Although the practices and techniques may evolve, the mission remains the same: helping farmers grow more while conserving natural resources.